Pedal to the Metal
by Jennifer Weiss -- July 28th, 2012
I have just found my new favorite renewable energy source. Nope, it’s not solar. No, not wind. No, it’s not even energy from ocean currents (although that’s pretty cool too). It’s electricity generated from stationary bikes. Specifically, stationary bikes pedaled by prisoners. Yes, I just said from prisoners.
A recent NPR broadcast tells the story of a small city near Brazil where prisoners pedal four stationary bikes that have been rigged to generate electricity. Prisoners volunteer to spend all day in the prison courtyard and take turns pedaling stationary bikes that were donated by a local police department. In return for their efforts, they receive one day off their sentence for every three 8-hour days of pedaling. Plus, they get a pretty good workout.
So how much electricity can be generated by four prisoners pedaling for 8 hour a day? According to the NPR story, the 4 bikes generate enough electricity to power 10 lamp posts. I’m not sure what types of lamps these are, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The point is … they are generating electricity. And, with the exception of needing a bit more food to fuel their bodies, the prisoners are not emitting any green house gases to produces the electricity they are generating. Brilliant.
Which makes me think … what if we took advantage of this great new renewable energy source right here in the United States? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were over 735,000 inmates in local jails in 2011. If each of these inmates pedaled for 8 hours a day, they would produce electricity to power 1,837,500 Brazilian lamp posts. WOW!!
Now, I won’t get into whether these stationary bikes are an efficient means of generating electricity (they aren’t) or whether this is even a feasible idea (it really isn’t), but it is fun to think about. If each prison were given 10 stationary bikes to use to generate their own electricity, it would at least offset some of the electricity being used to house them during their prison term. And, let’s face it, it’s not like they have a lot of other things to do while they are waiting out their time.
Hmmmm … Prisoner Power. It has a nice ring to it.